Monday, 4 January 2016

Non-profits don't run for free

Over the years one of the harshest things any minister can hear is the comment “Gosh, you have a cushy job. You only work one hour on one day a week.”

What really disturbs me was that it was often said by well-intentioned people who should have known better. Like the business person who was trying to reduce the minister’s salary,
forgetting the time I had spent at the bedside of his mother in her last months before she died.

We often don’t see the back office functions of the charities and non-profits in our community. They are there and they are essential, but we just don’t seem to want to acknowledge them.

I have served on countless boards and committees of such organizations, as well as church congregations large and small. I continue to be amazed at the dedication, commitment and desire to make a difference in the community which I find.

There is a scurrilous internet posting in circulation which purports to name the salaries of the executive directors of various charitable and non-profit organizations. People on Facebook love to forward it to their friends with something like “Will you look at this? I know where I’m NOT going to give any money.”

Problem is, the whole post is false. It’s a lie. It has no basis in fact and no application to Canadian charities. I’ve taken to replying to those who forward it by saying exactly that and pointing them to accurate information.

Reality is that the back office functions, the administration work, if you will, is critical for any charity or non-profit. Someone has to answer the phone, receive donations, complete the tax receipts, send out the mail, keep the books, see that they are audited, file required Canada Revenue Agency returns, prepare for board meetings and represent the public face of the organization in the community. And it’s not done for free.

That does not mean those functions should take a considerable portion of the money a charity receives. What needs to be asked of any charity or non-profit organization is “How does your administration cost enhance and expand the work your organization does?” If that’s the benchmark, then an organization can clearly say “This what we do with the money you donate to us, including our administration costs.”

Most charitable and on-profit organizations are incredibly adept at making do with less, leveraging and multiplying resources with partners and like-minded groups so that community impact is maximized. Very, very little, in my experience, is wasted on frivolities, trips and unnecessary expenses.

I note that our local hospital foundation is seeking a “philanthropy officer”. That’s a good thing. Unfortunately our government sees fit not to cover replacement capital costs for our hospitals, forcing us, as taxpayers, to double dip into our wallets to replace life-expired medical equipment. Our hospitals are now required to ask us for money. That ask will be through legacy giving, wills and bequests. It’s a reasonable and worthy thing to do, although the government is evading their fuller responsibility.

Charities and non-profits have administration costs. The charitable and non-profit sector is too large, too complex and regulated for it to be any other way. Generosity alone doesn’t cut it any more. That is simply a fact of life.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.